- Last Updated on 05:35 PM 09/16/12
- BY Doug Ford
Success stories abounded at VIR in the first-ever appearance by the American LeMans Series on the fabled road course.
Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner clinched the American Le Mans Series GT title with a class win in Saturday’s VIR 240.
Alex Job Racing’s Cooper MacNeil clinched the GT Challenge (GTC) championship while winning his class with co-driver Leh Keen.
In the P2 class, Level 5 Motorsports’ Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker won after a close race with Conquest Racing’s David Heinemeier-Hansson and Martin Plowman.
CORE Autosport’s Alex Popow wrapped up the Prototype Challenge (PC) title with a third-place class finish, with teammates Colin Braun and Jon Bennett taking a class win on Saturday.
In the GT class, Gavin and Milner’s win clinched the team championship for Corvette Racing and the manufacturer title for Chevrolet.
Corvette Racing clinches GT championship
Gavin and Milner led twice in the GT class race for more than three hours and 15 minutes on the way to clinching the team championship for Corvette Racing and manufacturer title for Chevrolet.
Gavin clinched the title in his 100th start in the American LeMans Series, while Milner won his first class title.
Gavin recalled the opening lap pileup as a lot of bunched up cars and a lot of smoke and dust.
“As I was cutting to the inside, there was a PC car right in front of me, and I thought I was going to plow straight into it,” he recalled.
“But the guy somehow evaporated, and I just brushed right by him. It was a pretty big mess right there in turn one.”
Shortly before the one-hour mark of the race, Gavin had taken the lead for good, and Milner took it from there.
“Each of the cars have their own strengths, but our Corvette was fantastic in the brake zone,” said Milner.
“It makes it easier for us to pass and also easier for us to defend, but the car was really, really good for me.”
Short of a minor adjustment on the car during his stint, Milner said it really was sort of a boring day for him.
“But, I’ll take that for sure,” he added.
“It feels very good. I’ve had two very good years of Corvette racing, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
“The guys on the team made me feel like their best friend, and that makes the environment much better for me, that I can got out and drive and focus on my job.”
“You hope you can have these great runs in seasons, and this is our fourth win this year,” added Gavin, who won his first championship since 2007 with Saturday’s victory.
“I can thank so many people on this team who have done an incredible job, and that’s the reason why we’ve done so much.
“That’s the reason why we won the championship.”
P2 class winners win from back of grid
Tucker and Bouchut won the P2 class race for Level 5 Motorsports despite starting at the back of the grid due to a tire change after qualifying on Friday.
“Unfortunately, the tires got blistered after qualifying and the team made the decision to put new tires on before the race,” explained Tucker.
“I started the race at Sebring in the back, so it’s a disadvantage, but we figured there’d be a couple of yellows where we would catch back up.
“It was for me just to stay out of trouble and get the car up to around the two-hour mark.
“We got through the (first) wreck without any damage, and the plan worked.”
Bouchut said despite the congestion on the track and the close-quarters racing his team has to persevere to win the championship.
“Here, it is not easy to overtake,” said Bouchut.
“It is hard to evaluate when to go and when not to go. Sometimes it is a bit crazy. I started to get a little desperate, and I was penalized.
“We had to push that much harder to get back and be able to win the race, which is what we did.”
“It’s going to come down to the last race, and that’s what we figured it was at the start of the season,” added Tucker.
“We’re just preparing for that race like any other.”
Braun, Bennett take Prototype Challenge win
CORE Autosport’s Colin Braun and Jon Bennett won the Prototype Challenge (PC) class race at VIR on Saturday, while teammate Alex Popow clinched the PC title with a third-place class finish.
Bennett figured the start of the race at the rural VIR course would be different than the one in urban Baltimore the previous stop, but he was wrong.
“l was happy to be at a natural road course, and I knew the start wasn’t going to be at all like the one at Baltimore, a log jam,” said Bennett.
“It was a log jam just like Baltimore.”
“I knew Colin and I had really needed to win to have a chance at the driver’s championship, and we put our heads down and kept driving,” Bennett explained.
“The car was okay, things settled down and I had a pretty uneventful end of my stint, but it was quite exciting at the beginning.
“Some guys were really good about traffic, and some guys were not really good about traffic,” Braun noted.
“The GT drivers have so much control when you come up to them. They’re some drivers out there who will move over and block you and try to defend, but there are guys who make it pretty seamless.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a big part of the fun for me, too, weaving through the traffic.
“That’s when you can get a big advantage. If you can get through traffic and clear somebody you can make up two or three seconds a lap.”
MacNeil, Keen take GTC class win
Alex Job Racing and drivers Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen won the GT Challenge (GTC) race, and along with it the GTC team championship for Alex Job Racing.
“We nailed the pit stops, but Lee did a great job in qualifying,” said MacNeil.
“It was super close, and there’re a lot of great drivers out there and great teams.
“That’s what sets us apart, the effort of the Alex Job Racing guys and it showed today.”
“The start was a little bit hairy, but my job was to just finish and clinch, he added.
“I was far enough back where I could choose my line.
“It wasn’t too bad for me, sometimes it goes the other way and we just got lucky.”
It’s a new track for most everybody, but there were a lot of areas that make it very complicated with passing, and there were some pretty aggressive prototype drivers for a four-hour race,” said Keen.
“It’s a semi-endurance race, and you have to stay clean. We knew we had a great racecar. Cooper did an awesome job in turn one for that chaos there.”
Nunez sweeps Prototype Lites
Tristan Nunez, a 16-year-old driver for Performance Tech Motorsports, swept two 30-minute races in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda competition at Virginia International Raceway.
Friday, in round 11 of the Cooper Tires Prototye Lites Competition, Nunez captured his fifth consecutive win, along with a race lap record achieved on the fourth of 17 total laps.
Unclassified driver Ryan Booth crossed the finish line in the second position in Friday’s race, but was ineligible for the podium due to his unofficial status, with Richard Fant taking second place for the L1 class.
Jim Garrett, of Eurosport Racing, and like Fant a competitor in the Master’s Division, finished third in Friday’s race.
Miguel Benitez and Ansa Motorsports took the L2 class win Friday.
Nunez also won Saturday’s round of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites competition, ahead of Booth and Fant, with Mikhail Goikhberg of JDC Motorsports finishing fourth but officially being elevated to a third-place finish due to Booth’s not being eligible for podium honors.
Nunez has collected 11 podium finishes out of 12 total races to date.
In other racing action, rookie driver Christian Szymczak with Sick Sideways/Projections Research won round eight the SCCA Pro Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup on Saturday, with Ara Malkhassian of ALARA Racing/ALARA Garage finishing second and Stevan MCAleer of C.J. Wilson Children Charities /Blue Mercury finishing third.
Round 13 of the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohoma was won by Sean Johnston of Wright Motorsports, with Madison Snow of Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports finishing second.
Miles Maroney of TruSpeed Motorsports grabbed the other podium spot with a third-place finish.